Matthew McConaughey: ‘The moral code in new film spoke to me’

Matthew McConaughey’s “badass” character in Free State of Jones resonated with the actor.

Set during the American Civil War, the new movie is inspired by the life of defiant Southern farmer, Newton Knight, played by Matthew, and his armed rebellion against the Confederacy. Banding together with other small farmers and local slaves, Newton launches an uprising that led Jones County, Mississippi to secede from the Confederacy, creating the Free State of Jones.

Speaking about taking on the role, the Oscar-winner says Newton’s fight struck him from the start.

“He had a very simple moral code,” he told Total Film. “He saw wrong and had to do something about it, damn the consequences… And he did it all with a Bible and the barrel of a shotgun. He was a real badass, an avenging angel.”

Though the plot of the Gary Ross-directed film is fiction, the overall story is close to history, and many of the events portrayed actually happened. Accordingly, Matthew spent a lot of time researching the real Newton Knight, who died at the age of 84 in 1922.

“I talked to a lot of historians, met a lot of Newt’s descendants. You got to hear facts but also folklore. There were people who thought he was a bandit. He was a hell of a man to dive into,” he explained.

While Newton remains a divisive figure in American war history, the Interstellar star was pleased the narrative didn’t try to merely glaze over important or uncomfortable aspects of the battle. In fact, Matthew, 46, said the script’s honesty was his favourite part about the movie.

“It was the first thing I’ve seen on the Civil War that didn’t tidy up the ending,” he said. “There was a reality to it.”

Free State of Jones, which also stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Keri Russell, is showing in U.S. theatres and opens in the U.K. on 30 September (16).
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